Saudi agents tried to kidnap a social-media star and regime critic on US soil, The Daily Beast reported.
The plot was only foiled when the FBI caught them just as their plane arrived into LAX, the Beast said.
The critic, 27-year-old Abdulrahman Almutairi, used social media to criticize Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the brutal murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Almutairi joins a growing list of Saudi dissidents targeted by the regime. Carrying out such a mission on US soil would mark a new level of Saudi brazenness.
Agents of the Saudi government tried to kidnap a young social-media influencer and regime critic on US soil, The Daily Beast reported, cited multiple sources familiar with the episode.
The critic, 27-year-old Abdulrahman Almutairi, lives in California and used social media to criticize the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist assassinated by the Saudi government.
The Daily Beast reported said that after Almutairi voiced his criticism of the crown prince on social media for Khashoggi's death, an "unidentified Saudi man accompanied Almutairi's father on a flight to collect Almutairi against his will and bring him back to Saudi Arabia."
Almutairi told the outlet that if he had been taken back to Saudi Arabia he would likely have been killed.
Khashoggi's gruesome killing sparked intense global backlash. He was murdered on October 2, 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after going there to obtain paperwork for his upcoming wedding.
GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images
US officials and the UN have said that bin Salman most likely ordered the killing himself, which he denies.
While at the consulate, Khashoggi, who frequently criticized Crown Prince Mohammed and the Saudi regime in the Post, was ambushed, suffocated, and dismembered.
Almutairi told The Daily Beast the Saudi government knew he was "a threat" because of his audience on social media. Two sources told the outlet that only the FBI's intervention stopped the plot to kidnap Almutairi.
The Saudi crown prince again made headlines in the US when The Guardian reported that he had hacked the cell phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos through the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp.
The Saudi government has denied the charge, calling them "absurd." But UN investigators on Wednesday threw their weight behind the allegations and said they had received information supporting The Guardian's reporting.
Agnes Callamard and David Kaye — special rapporteurs appointed by the UN — called for an investigation, and said the forensic report indicated that a number belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed had hacked Bezos' phone through a malicious video file sent via WhatsApp.
Bezos gave his personal cell phone number to the crown prince in April 2018, after the two men attended a dinner together in Los Angeles.
Callamard also told The Daily Beast she believes Almutairi's story is credible.
"There is a pattern of the Saudi authorities, particularly over the last two years, targeting individuals—high profile people with a big Saudi audience," Callamard told the outlet, "either because they're critical of MBS or the government or not just for what they say but what they don't say, if they're insufficiently supportive."
Saudi Arabia has a pattern of targeting dissidents
Almutairi joins a growing list of Saudi dissidents targeted by the Saudi regime for their criticism of the kingdom.
Khashoggi's death brought to light Saudi Arabia's widespread campaign to crackdown on dissent. Since then several other bloggers, activists, and writers have come forward alleging harassment.
Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist in exile in Canada, had his phone targeted with spyware by Saudi agents in June 2018. Abdulaziz had previously told Business Insider that his family and friends were arrested or "disappeared" because of his criticism of Saudi Arabia.
"They threatened me a few days ago," Abdulaziz told Business Insider in August 2018, "and they used my brother to blackmail me. He said to me 'Omar you have to stop because we're going to be arrested or jailed.' Some of our friends reached out to me, too. But I said I'm not going to stop, I'm going to keep talking. "
Georgetown University fellow Abdullah Alaoudh told PBS News Hour in March that there is nowhere to hide from Saudi Arabia.
"They have no limits. They can reach you everywhere. They fear every criticism and every different opinion," he said.
Photographer and activist Danah Al-Mayouf told PBS News Hour that she too was targeted by Saudi agents for speaking out.
"Who are these people attacking me all the time who, like, want to basically put me in jail, want to see me homeless in America?" she said.
Almutairi told PBS that after Khashoggi's death, he began to post videos on social media critical of the Saudi regime. Saudi Arabia then revoked his scholarship at University of San Diego for his activism.
"You didn't only kill him. You chopped him up," he said in a video posted to social media. "Is this a government or a mafia?"